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  • Cynthia Yoo

Anxiety - How Counselling Can Help

The most effective form of treatment for anxiety involves medication and/or psychotherapy. Medication can help regulate the neurochemicals in your brain and body that are responsible for mood, emotion, sleep, appetite, and digestion. Counselling can help you gain insight and skills to help you relate to your struggles and yourself in a new way. With support and persistence, you can break the cycle of anxiety, manage your fears, and become empowered to live your life with confidence and freedom.


People who struggle with anxiety tend to overestimate the threat of external danger and underestimate their internal capacity to cope. Anxiety is fear-based. When anxiety is extreme, we stop venturing out into the unknown - which is life itself. We start backing out of opportunities in an attempt to stay safe, secure, and comfortable. There is an immediate sense of relief when we avoid facing our fears. The problem is that avoidance causes our fears to grow. The next time we face the same stressor, our need to escape it becomes that much bigger. We've convinced ourselves that we cannot handle it. Avoidance provides short-term relief, but in the long-term reinforces and exacerbates our fear and anxiety. Before we know it, our fear becomes bigger than our courage, joy, and confidence. We become trapped in a cycle of fear and avoidance. Without proper treatment, everyday anxiety can evolve into a range of physical and mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders and major depressive disorder.


Confronting anxiety is hard work. It requires a commitment from you to do the one thing you have avoided all this time - that is, face your fear. Counselling can help you gain the insight and skills you need to understand anxiety in a new way, tolerate distress, be open to not knowing, lean into courage, and problem-solve in the face of challenges. Here are some themes you could work on in counselling with the support of a trained professional:

  • identify meaningful and realistic goals you want to work toward;

  • actively explore your anxiety (e.g., when and how does it show up, what does it get in the way of, what does it want for you, what do you want for yourself, what makes it worse and better, what’s the worse that can happen, how might you handle that, what’s the best that can happen, how likely is that);

  • develop a new relationship with anxiety that promotes your autonomy - be willing to accept uncertainty and feel uncomfortable, cultivate and lean into courage, take risks, keep your goals in mind, and make mistakes as you continue to learn and grow;

  • identify your anxiety cycle (e.g., your triggers, unhelpful thought patterns, feelings, physiological symptoms, and avoidance tactics);

  • explore how you can break your anxiety cycle (e.g., new ways of noticing, perceiving, thinking, feeling, and doing);

  • practice distress tolerance skills that enhance your mind-body connection (e.g., stay calm and present by using strategies to tune into and manage your breath and body);

  • practice flexible thinking skills (to problem-solve and adapt when things are challenging);

  • practice taking purposeful action that moves you closer toward your goals (step out of your comfort zone on purpose);

  • become aware of what you need and ask for help when you need it;

  • recognize and celebrate your successes along the way.

If you struggle with anxiety, counselling can help you break the cycle of feeling disempowered. You don't have to live your life running away from your fears in order to seek comfort. You can build on your existing strengths and capacities - and gain new insight and skills - to relate to uncertainty in a new way. Learning to accept anxiety, effectively manage it, and adaptively respond to challenges as they arise is critical to feeling competent, confident, and empowered to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. With the right support, you can break your anxiety cycle and lean into courage to manage your fears.


- Written by Cynthia Yoo, Registered Psychologist -


Resources:

  • Anxiety Canada is a website offering free information, articles, and resources on worry, panic, perfectionism, social anxiety, and phobias

  • My Anxiety Plan is a free self-guided study plan to help children, youth, and parents manage anxiety

  • MindShift CBT is a free evidence-based app to help manage anxiety

Apps:

  • Calm - resource with meditations, stories, music, talks, and more

  • Headspace - app with guided and unguided meditations as well as animations for younger kids

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